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September 30, 2014

Did Big Love infringe on the University of Utah?

by Allison Waldman, posted Jul 10th 2009 2:02PM
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HBO's Big Love has a way of stirring up controversy, although on a scale of 1-10, 10 being big time controversy, this Big Love trademark infringement case with the University of Utah is about a 2.

Seriously, what's the big deal? Here's the story in a nutshell: there was a three-second shot of the University of Utah logo on UU (yeah, that's what they call themselves) letterhead which the school claims was used without permission.

Well, excuse me for doubting the veracity of the Utes (their nickname), but is this really worth making a fuss? I don't think so. In fact, I think if this had occurred on another less Utah-centric, polygamy-filled, controversy-inducing drama, the University wouldn't have even noticed the three-second shot. HBO has issued a statement defending the show. The University is demanded the shot be deleted in all future airings and the upcoming DVD release.

What to do, what to do, what to do? Even if HBO is right and Big Love had permission and did nothing wrong, the show should delete the three-seconds. Insert a close up of Bill's (Bill Paxton) eyes or a cut-away to the master shot, anything will do because the logo from the college is unnecessary to the point of the scene. The characters tell viewers what the letter shows -- that the college authenticated the letter from former Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Wilford Woodruff that legitimizes the practice of polygamy -- and that's more than enough.

Oh, and next year, Big Love should simply invent a phony university for future verification scenes if they come up. After all, Bill is inventing a new religion for his family. In fiction, and TV rights squabbles, invention is the way to go.

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Jeff N.

This is a fictional TV show. I think the U of Utah is a bit too sensitive.

July 10 2009 at 4:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike McNamara

There's a difference in use when it comes to using a logo for commercial purposes versus using it for an "artistic" reason. That's why it'd be a much bigger deal -- and a much difference case -- if a Big Love character was wearing a University of Utah sweatshirt on the cover of the DVD box set than if they use it within a prop on the show.

If I were the U of Utah, I'd pick my battles wisely. Not only is this bringing far more attention to the issue than ignoring it ever would, but a trouble making and attention hungry producer/writer could easily create a polygamist-promoting evil character who just happened to be a Dean at an unnamed large state school in Salt Lake City and there's not a lot they could do about it.

July 10 2009 at 4:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chris

These type of lawsuits are file a lot. The same thing happens with high schools when they use college logos on their football helmets, etc. The University must protect it's trademarks or they risk losing them. In other words, what Lincolnparadox said.

July 10 2009 at 3:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Dinger

As a U of U grad I have to disagree Lincolnparadox. The U of U goes out of its way not to be a Mormon institution. Most Mormons consider it to be slanted against the Mormon church and would rather go to BYU.

July 10 2009 at 3:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lincoln Paradox


The LDS Church has been distancing themselves from polygamy for over a century. Yes, the practice of polygamy is still practiced in secret by many would-be Mormons in small towns in Southern Utah, but this practice is condemned by the LDS Church itself.

The University of Utah is a staunchly Mormon institution, and probably doesn't want to be associated with a TV show about radical Mormon polygamists. Also, it probably doesn't want to be associated with a show on HBO. It's too naughty.

Is the use of the UofU letterhead harmless? Probably. But there is a trend among many universities now to trademark their proprietary symbols. This is to protect the good name of their schools (I still have a Calvin peeing on the CSU ram t-shirt) or to insure that official university products make money for the university. If you don't protect a trademark, then you will lose your protections.

July 10 2009 at 2:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Lincoln Paradox's comment
Joey Geraci

I'm pretty sure this is a case of fair use, if there ever was one. There is no way that anybody is going to think that the University endorses this show. The whole idea is ridiculous. HBO shouldn't back down.

July 10 2009 at 3:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sean

"The University of Utah is a staunchly Mormon institution."

Seriously? You really just said that? Have you ever even been to Utah?

The U is NOT a staunchly Mormon institution. It is a secular, public university. You must be confusing the U with BYU, and you really couldn't be more wrong.

And fyi, because I'm sure it will come up, I'm not Mormon. And I don't live in Utah, but I do like to vacation there. More national parks than any other state.

July 10 2009 at 8:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Meredith

Just an FYI-they call themselves the U of U. I agree, considering the things they usually are in the news about, this one doesn't seem like a big deal at all. But it would also be super easy to cut it out of future broadcasts.

July 10 2009 at 2:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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